Young Guns: Business owner Gabrielle Blades uses design to connect with the people she works with

Growing up, Gabrielle Blades "was always the artsy kid," she says.

Sitting in her second-floor office at the Hamilton County INCubator, Blades recalled how she would create and design greeting cards as a child and pretend to sell them to family and friends. Now, at 27, Blades is the owner and graphic designer of Blades Creative, and instead of designing greeting cards for family members, she's designed materials for major organizations, such as BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and the city of Chattanooga.

Blades describes her design as "crisp" and "minimal," but her projects can range from "incredibly creative" to more corporate-like depending on the client's needs. Everything is custom, she said.

"I always start with pen and paper and don't go straight to digital," she says.

Blades graduated from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree majoring in graphic design in 2013 and was a finalist for the Small Business of the Year award given by the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce in March. Blades worked for the city of Chattanooga on the Multimodal Transportation Center Study, which allowed her to pick up some other work for LAUNCH Chattanooga, a nonprofit that provides business training and resources for underrepresented entrepreneurs in the city.

Through LAUNCH, Blades said she learned more about entrepreneurship and realized that she wanted to pursue her own business after her stint with the city came to an end. So, in January 2016, Blades began her journey as a freelancer.

"My favorite part of what I do is that I get to learn about everybody's work," she says."I'm not just a graphic designer, I have to do a lot of research."

Blades said she enjoys designing logos the most, although it can be draining and challenging. While Blades does all the designing herself, she does have one part-time assistant. Blades hopes to stay in Chattanooga long-term after her stint at the INCubator. She said she would like to bring in clients from outside of Chattanooga who might provide bigger design jobs, but says she wants to keep Chattanooga as home base.

"With design, I feel we get to really connect with the people we work with because we do learn so much about them. I really pride myself on creating those genuine connections with the people I'm working with," she says.

-Originally published in Chattanooga Times Free Press, May 2019, Interview by Allison Shirk Collins

Gabrielle Blades